Business Customers Are Consumers, Too

(Image credit: CommBank)

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (“CommBank”) is that country’s largest consumer bank, and has built its leadership, in part, on technology innovation. Those skills and processes now uniquely position it to grow the business side of its portfolio.

Arguably, its love affair with tech started all the way back in the 1980s.

Back then, CommBank debuted some of the first ATMs, and then partnered with its competitors to develop a homegrown bank card. It was one of the first banks to embrace online banking in 1997.

Apple’s first iPhone in 2007 inaugurated what could be called the consumerification of business tech. The device obliterated many of the old-fashioned distinctions between what individuals and institutions expected in terms of user experience and benefits (with disastrous results for companies like RIM, now BlackBerry).

It also ushered in the era of apps and cloud ubiquity, which brought once-complex computer software programs within reach (and budget) for small businesses, while inspiring larger ones to adopt packaged solutions.

So CommBank decided to lead again on the tech front, only this time it focused inward with a massive AUD1 billion program project to upgrade its ledger-based computer systems, and allow it to be the first Australian bank to go “real time” for its customers by the time it was completed in 2012.

“Key to what we hoped to achieve was to make greater use of platforms, simplify and standardize what we do, and use more open source as well as digitizing our processes,” explained David Whiteing, Group Executive and CIO.

“We wanted to be equipped for the changing habits of consumer and business customers into the future.”

The idea that business clients were “consumers” too led to a steady stream of innovations. Some were process-specific, like Everyday Settlement, which gives businesses better cashflow visibility and access, or business specific apps such asCommBiz Mobile an app version of its enterprise banking portal allowing companies the ability to authorize payments on an iPhone, and Daily IQ, a tool that aggregates and then analyzes customer transactions for a given period which can then be accessed for free via an iPad app.

It also led Australia with NFC contactless payments, simplifying the transactions by instituting a pre-set threshold of up to AUD$100 and, just last December, was the first bank to perform a property purchase settlement on Australia’s leading online property exchange (PEXA).

“We want to be able to conceive and develop ideas quickly, and get products to market as quickly as possible,” Whiteing said, noting that the bank continues to innovate aggressively on the consumer front, having recently announced products such as cardless cash ATM withdrawals and a smartwatch app.

That innovation process resembles that of a consumer products company, not a bank: In June 2009, CommBank made 1,500 system changes per month while, by the end of July 2015, its monthly rate had more than doubled to 3,800.

More than 12 million consumer and business account customers are now enjoying those benefits.